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📙 Emotional Experience and Religious Understanding: Integrating Perception, Conception and Feeling by Mark Wynn — free epub


Emotional Experience and Religious Understanding: Integrating Perception, Conception and Feeling by Mark Wynn (Cambridge University Press) (Hardcover) In this book Mark Wynn argues that the landscape of philosophical theology looks rather different from the perspective of a reconceived theory of emotion. In matters of religion, we do not need to opt for objective content over emotional form or vice versa. On the con¬trary, these strategies are mistaken at root, since form and content are not properly separable here - because 'inwardness' may contribute to `thought-content', or because (to use the vocabulary of the book) emotional feelings can themselves constitute thoughts; or because, to put the point another way, in religious contexts, perception and conception are often infused by feeling. Wynn uses this perspective to forge a distinctive approach to a range of established topics in philosophy of religion, notably: religious experience; the problem of evil; the relationship of religion and ethics, and religion and art; and in general, the connection of 'feeling' to doctrine and tradition. Why consider the significance of the emotions in religious contexts? In the course of this book, Wynn provides quite a number of reasons for doing so, by showing how the landscape of philosophical theology and philosophy of religion looks rather different from the perspective of a reconceived theory of emotion. But even casual reflection will reveal that arguments about the cognitive status of religious belief often turn on some understanding of the significance of the emotions. Here, for example, is John Macquarrie's summing up of a central strand of the naturalistic critique of religious belief in the nineteenth century and later: 'In the nineteenth century the drift of philosophy had been increasingly in the direction of a mechanistic and materialistic world view, and in England this was powerfully advocated by such thinkers as Bertrand Russell, and, later, Alfred Ayer. The natural sciences were taken to furnish the only basis for assured knowledge, and anything that smacked of religion or mysticism was treated as non-cognitive and banished to the region of "mere emotion".' One might try to evade this critique by keeping emotion out of religion, or at any rate by separating the cognitive bit of religion from the emotional bit - but any serious examination of the psychology of religious belief formation will reveal, will it not, the shaping influence of various kinds of emotional commitment? On this point, Ayer and other critics of religion are surely right. The proposal of this book offers another response again, one which privileges neither the 'what' (as the first response) nor the 'how' (as the second) : in matters of religion, we do not need to opt for (emotional) form over (objective) content, the 'how' over the 'what'; nor do we need to rid ourselves of the 'how' to retain the 'what'. On the contrary, these strategies are mistaken at root, since form and content are not properly separable here - because 'inwardness' may contribute to `thought-content', or because (to use the vocabulary of this book) emotional feelings are intrinsically intentional (themselves constitute thoughts). Or because, to put the point in yet another way, in matters of religion, perception and conception are often infused by feeling. So in response to the question of why we should study the significance of the emotions in religious contexts, we might say: such a study offers the prospect of an account which is at once sensitive to the psychology of religious belief formation, germane to the key assumption of one central tradition of religious scepticism, and attentive to the possibility that the `how' and the 'what' of religious thought are not always separable. This book is also animated by the thought that a discussion of these questions is especially opportune just now. In recent years, there has been an explosion of interest in the emotions in a variety of fields, and most notably, for our purposes, in philosophy, neuroscience, and psychology. The central theme of this book is that these developments are potentially of far-reaching importance for our understanding of the significance of the emotions in religious contexts. Of course, there are a number of recent monographs in the philosophy of religion which consider the epistemic importance of the emotions. The outstanding example is perhaps William Wainwright's Reason and the Heart. However, this work was published before the most recent developments in philosophical treatments of the emotions to which I have just alluded. Petri Jarvelainen's A Study on Religious Emotions is a helpful discussion which does engage with these developments, but his interests are rather different from mine.' There are also various texts which seek to integrate affective experience within a larger account of the epistemology of religious belief without placing the emotions at the centre of their analysis. A good example of this strategy is William Abraham's defence of 'soft rationalism'. This is a stance which retains a role for evidence and argument (unlike 'fideism') while also assigning cognitive significance to personal, affectively toned experience (unlike 'hard rationalism'). The discussion of this book could be read as a filling out of the 'soft rationalist' option in ways that give particular weight to the epistemic contribution of emotional experience. As I have suggested, the book can also be read as a reworking of various established topics in philosophical theology and philosophy of religion in the light of recent developments in the philosophy (and psychology and neuroscience) of the emotions. The key themes of the book are these: Emotional feelings can function as modes of value perception - in relation to God, the world, and individual human beings; and the idea that feelings, conceptions, and perceptions may con¬tribute to complex wholes which cannot be understood reductively as simply the sum of their parts, that emotional feelings can themselves carry intellectual content. I also argue that in some cases, this content may not be otherwise available, in which case feeling's role may be not just constructive, but indispensable. The upshot of the discussion is that we need to see religious understanding as a commitment of the person in their intellectual-behavioural-affective integrity discussions, including questions such as 'Why should the phenomenology of religious experience not be more easily describable?' (an issue for Alston) and 'Why should the understanding of God that is achieved in religious experience not be more easily describable?' (an issue for Newman). Wynn seeks to re-examine the topics of: religious experience, the relationship of religion and ethics, and the 'problem of evil' (Chapters 1-3). Wynn brings into fruitful relationship three strands of reflection: on the one side, John McDowell's cognitivist reading of value experience and, on the other side, the view of affectively toned theistic experience that is expounded in the writings of John Henry Newman and William Alston. The question of the relationship between religion and morality has a long and controverted history Wynn suggests that the work of Raimond Gaita advocates a new and more fruitful conception of this relationship than is implied in the currently dominant theories of ethics. If Gaita is right that our moral categories are properly founded upon the quality of our felt responses, and specifically the responses of love and remorse (and not upon notions such as happiness, autonomy, flourishing, rights, and the like), then our relationship to others is to be understood in terms of a broadly similar conceptual framework, whether our perspec¬tive is that of morality or that of theistic religion (and perhaps more specifically, that afforded by the Christian faith). More controversially, Wynn argues that Gaita's scheme invites completion in religious terms, in so far as the impartial love of the saints points ultimately to a religiously serious appropriation of the language of divine parental love. Finally, Wynn argues that Gaita's scheme needs elaboration in at least one respect if it is to prove fully consistent with the demands of a certain kind of religiously committed ethic. After Wynn examines the possibility of an affectively toned perception of God and of other human beings, he deals with the possibility of an affectively toned perception, or at least assessment, of the world. Wynn argues that there is some reason to suppose that this sort of assessment is possible (appealing to the models of Smith and Schleiermacher, and Tugwell's discussion of St Francis). Wynn suggests that our discursive enquiries into questions of theodicy should be conducted with humility. Wynn attempts to clarify the sense in which the insights made available in feeling admit of certitude, are enduringly available, and are capable of embodiment and communication to others. Finally, Wynn considered how emotional attachments may also help to constitute certain values, and how this possibility may contribute to a reassessment of the problem of evil, by pointing to a larger connection between vulnerability and the fundamental value of things mattering at all. Emotional feelings can also function as 'paradigms', and can therefore properly direct the devel¬opment of our discursive understanding, in religious and other contexts as for example in the idea that 'feeling' may run ahead of 'doctrine' in the way suggested by William James and others (Chapters 4-5). Wynn elaborates four models of the relationship between emotional feeling and understanding, considering how those models may be placed in a larger context, and to some degree further specified and corroborated, by reference to recent work in psychology, neurophysiology, and philosophy. In bri

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